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Living with Leopard: Book X — But Can You Get Your Work Done Faster?

Let’s set aside the pretty desktops, the transparent menu bar and menus, and even the controversial 3D Dock. That’s all window dressing and doesn’t do a thing to make your workday go faster, although I suppose a pleasant desktop view does convey an appropriate level of comfort.

I’ll leave it to the psychologists, however, to explain the potential impact, if any. On the other hand, simply having a computer that just works — at least most of the time — ought to be plenty helpful toward raising your comfort level.

However, let’s look at the most important function of a computer operating system, which is to manage things in such a way that it lets you run your applications with top efficiency and performance, and stay out of the way when you don’t need to be aware of its presence.

In that sense, Windows Vista, by dint of its chronic ailment of posting prompts about allowing one thing or another, fails miserably. With Leopard, for example, you’ll get a prompt for a password when you install an application, and a warning when you launch software you downloaded for the first time. Apple has been gracious enough to limit its notifications to situations where they’re needed, and nothing more.

For my particular workflow, I do a heavy amount of audio production, because of The Tech Night Owl LIVE and The Paracast. Although both are streamed live, there’s a lot of recorded content, and not all of it sounds so great, because guests frequently use wireless phones or chintzy headsets to record their sides of the conversation. I don’t get obsessive about it, but I try to clean out excess hiss, buzzing sounds, and frequent clicks, without hurting the clarity of the speech or the flow of the dialog.

I don’t confine myself to a single audio application. These days, for capturing two-way conversations in iChat and Skype, I use Ambrosia Software’s super-powerful WireTap Studio, which also has a decent level of audio editing capability. But my actual post-production is done in Peak Pro, though I’ve been doing a little experimentation in Apple’s Soundtrack Pro, which is being bundled with the new Logic Studio.

For live streaming, I’ve continued to use Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster. Prerecorded files are presented in QuickTime, and the Sound preference pane is left open to monitor actual incoming audio levels from our outboard signal processor.

To make my job as easy as possible, I put all multimedia applications in a single space, using Leopard’s Spaces. If I have to respond to email, or change something on one of my sites, there are other screens that are exclusively devoted to those types of applications. This way my single monitor serves the purpose of many, I don’t have to be disturbed by the clutter of windows that I do not need.

Previously, I used an automatic hiding utility to clear the desktop, but it would only function with one application at a time, unless I used a special shortcut (usually “Shift”) when switching apps or set some custom preferences. Yes, there have been virtual desktops on the Mac before, but none are as seamless or fast as Spaces.

So, yes, in that respect, Leopard helps me organize my work and get my chores done a little faster.

But there’s more. The new Finder and associated components handle file sharing far more seamlessly, without delays, so I can easily connect to my other Mac, and even share its screen when appropriate. At the same time, file copying is more efficiently managed, with fewer slowdowns when working in other applications. That all adds up to improved productivity.

While I realize there are some early-release bugs in Leopard that might cause grief for a small number of users, I have never had a kernel panic, and only a handful of application crashes. I consider that a non-issue. What’s more, applications seem to launch faster.

As far as email is concerned, I was never too happy with the occasional flakiness of previous versions of Apple Mail. I had settled on Microsoft Entourage 2004 because of its superior handling of IMAP mail. However, the Leopard version of Mail is faster and more predictable, and the return of Data Detectors, which automatically recognizes such things as addresses, dates, names and phone numbers, is especially welcomed. I just wonder why it took long for this relic of the Classic Mac OS era to be reborn.

I’m also quite pleased with the performance and consistency of Safari 3, although I’m not about to use it full-time just yet. You see, WordPress, used to generate this site, isn’t fully compatible. Also, Safari doesn’t allow you to selectivity allow pop-ups. It’s either all or nothing, whereas Firefox permits you to disable the blocking feature on a site-by-site basis.

Now I haven’t gotten around to testing Time Machine yet. No disasters have occurred, and I’m not inclined to want to force the process. But I’m happy it’s there when I need it.

All in all, my experience with Leopard has been truly wonderful. If you’re holding off because some application you need isn’t compatible yet, your time will come soon enough. It’ll be worth the wait.